Aiguille du Midi – Chamonix, France
The must do attraction when you visit Chamonix – Aiguille du Midi, the highest peak accessible by aerial lift system. Translating to “needle of the mid-day”, when viewed from the Chamonix church, the sun passes the summit at noon. You can see it from the town – a small needle shape atop the highest peak at 3824 meters (as a reference, Chamonix sits at 1035 meters). That is where we would be and it was hard to believe or image what the views are like at the top.
Since we purchased Mont Blanc Unlimited Passes online (read our review of the value of this pass here), we headed to a kiosk directly in front of the Aiguille du Midi lift to print them. It was a very easy process that took seconds. The first lift of the day was at 8:10AM so we got ourselves directly in line just before 8AM.
All the other people in line had their ski or snowboard gear, or the most intense climbing gear I have ever seen. I was beginning to question if we were in the correct spot. Then, someone in front of us turned as said in a heavy Australian accent “oh, I am glad we are not the only ones not prepared – where is your rope?” We both laughed. While she and her group were also in ski gear, they were just going up to the top for the view and heading right to a ski slope. Up to Aiguille du Midi we go!
There are two sets of gondolas that are needed to reach the peak of Aiguille du Midi. The first one takes visitors to Plan de l’Aiguille at 2317 meters and accelerates at a fast, steep incline. It is standing room only and between the folks with all their gear and us – they pack you into these gondolas like sardines. I felt slightly better that there was an attended in our gondola – as if they were able to do something if the gondola came tumbling down off the cable. Gripping onto the only pole I could find through all the skis and poles, I held it tight as we ascended up.
The second gondola was similar set up but we lost many of the climbers and the skiers. With much more room around, I could actually see out of the windows. We were so high and only getting higher. This gondola suspended completely making the connection from one peak to another. Trying not to lose my cool, we completed the final leg of the journey to Aiguille du Midi.
When we got out of the gondola, hypoxia warnings were displayed educating on the signs and the availability of a hypoxia room if needed. Hoping this would not be an issue, we were at 3842 meters and while it is not technically the highest altitude we have “ever been” outside a commercial plane, it certainly was the longest period of time.
As we exited the gondola station onto a bridge, we were stopped immediately but the indescribable view. Sweeping in all directions, a view like no other. The town below looked like a model and the mountains even looked small.
While we stopped to take some photos, we realized this was not even the best part. We proceeded forward into the building, looking for the way to the tip top. The elevator opened in five minutes so we sat and waited to be the first ones up at the top of Aiguille du Midi for the day. As the elevator lift opened, we hoped on in to complete the journey final 42 meters to 3842 meters.
When the doors opened, nothing could prepare you for the view. It was heavenly, above everything and anything at the highest peak. To the left was a view of the mountains with the towns nestled underneath them, in front was Mont Blanc itself, to the right was an endless sea of mountain peaks as far as the eyes can see – just like looking onto the ocean that meets the horizon. We were giddy up here (and quite honestly confused that no one else shared the same exclamation of child wonderment) and could not believe our eyes. The sun rise was high enough now over the mountains to give us a gorgeous view. Every several minutes, the colors of the mountains would all change as the sun inched higher into the sky. It was nearly impossible to refrain for taking hundreds of pictures and videos (as I did) in an attempt to capture this magic. A snap shot in time to share with everyone we know and to remember the feeling of being up here forever.
It was difficult to quantify the number of peaks we could see, like waves in the ocean stationary and endless. Peaks that belonged to France, Switzerland, and Italy, all a part of the Alps. One of these peaks in the distance is the famous Matterhorn, only seen on the clearest of days like this one.
We spent a long time on the platform – longer than anyone else as occasionally people would stop up and head back down. The place was basically ours at this hour and we took full advantage. There were moments we just sat at the edge to study each crevasse. We noted a few sets of climbers make their way towards Mont Blanc. There were also many skiers that descended down and started a journey though the pass – completely on their own. I cannot imagine what it is like to ski here! The Vallee Blanche Pass was unfortunately closed for recreation at the time we visited as it was not ready for public ski. We learned most of the people that live in and near Chamonix rarely ski on the operational slopes but rather go off piste and ski wherever the snow falls.
Next to Mont Blanc is an enormous glacier – it was easy to tell the difference between the rock and the ice as the blue hue was vibrant with the sun’s help.
One of the perks of visiting and included in the ticket up here was the “Step into the Void” experience were you stand on a glass surface over the abyss below. While I really did not feel compelled to try it, we were up here after all. The staff also take photos on your phone so it made it worth it.
It was really hard to make the final call to go back down the elevator. We spent just under an hour up on the terrace, simply in awe. We waved a fair goodbye from this heavenly view, completely amazed by Mont Blanc, Chamonix, and the Alps. This is absolutely a must do experience and still in awe from the entire thing.
In the building below, there were quite a few things to explore, like a museum. There is an exhibit showcasing climbing and ice gear that is utilized in these areas. Another portion focused on the construction of the gondolas and Aiguille du Midi (crazy!). There was a room that educated on the effects of hypoxia at different altitudes and durations of time.
“The Tube” takes visitors to other viewing platforms around the building of different angles of the mountains. At the end of The Tube was an opening of ice and snow that lead to the Valle Blanche Pass we saw the skiers and climbers trekking down into the snow.
We heard an announcement that a gondola leaving for Chamonix was departing in five minutes so we took to opportunity to make our way back down the mountain. There were several sets of stairs that completely winded us – the hypoxia was kicking in and it was not fun. It felt like it took forever to each this gondola station as it was way less direct than the entrance in (of course, you have to pass the Aiguille du Midi gift shop!). Reaching the gondola was sweet relief.
Since we were the first gondola up to Aiguille du Midi, the gondola down was virtually empty. This allowed up to have an unobstructed and panoramic view on the journey. While I still grasped onto a pole, it really was an amazing ride.
A quick pit stop at the next gondola station, we took to opportunity to wander outside and look around at the valley. Just amazing.
The final gondola ride full of popped ears and resurgence of oxygen took us down back into the heart of Chamonix. Honestly, I do no think anything could have properly prepared us for the experience up at the top of Aiguille du Midi but it was unforgettable. I know the photos do not do it justice but it serves as a reminder of the amazing time we had at the top of the world.
My two parting tips for visiting Aiguille du Midi: 1) go up on the first gondola of the day. It comes with so many benefits, including a low sun for optimal light in photos, as well as fewer people. 2) make sure it is clear. Do not waste the money to go up if it is cloudy because you will not get the same experience. The price of round trip up to Aiguille du Midi is 65 euro. Since we had the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass, it was included and it is the only pass offered that included Aiguille du Midi as one of the benefits. Dress warm (very warm, even if you visit in the summer time it is freezing) and listen to your body if you experience signs of hypoxia. Information for timetables and ticket prices here.